Sing! Sing! Sing!

4 09 2013

I’ve been trying to change my defaults—at least, that’s been my story.

A while ago I declared I would make the attempt to get my ass out of my desk chair and into the city, that instead of offering excuses for my nos (noes? no’s?), I’d just say yes.

It’s worked in all kinds of small ways (especially when it involves meeting friends at a bar), but it hasn’t led to any kind of ongoing commitments.

My friend E., to whom I had mentioned my (honestly, fake) desire to say yes more often, had the temerity to take the idea and run with it. Let’s do Gotham Rock Choir, she said!

Um, okay, I said. What it is?

A choir! In New York! That sings rock songs!

Um, okay.

It’ll be fun.

Um, okay.

(Un)fortunately, we weren’t able to make it into the winter/spring round, but E managed to partake of the summer round. I had to teach at night (when they rehearse), so, darn, I couldn’t do it.

E. didn’t really like it at first, but, better woman than I, she stuck with it, and ended up having a gas. I’m going to do this again, she said. You wanna?

Uhhh. . . .

Come on! It was fun!

Uhhh. . . .

Just go to the first rehearsal, see if you like it.

Oooookaaaaayyy.

And  I went. (And she went. . . cf 5:28.)

And it kicked my ass.

I had a decent enough voice when I was younger—nothing special, but enough to carry a tune in high school musicals—but even that mediocre decency dropped with disuse. I used to be able to nail some very low notes, and now, pfft, now my voice bottoms into flatness.

The other folk in the choir? Not flat. Pretty damned good, in fact.

So I was thinking, Ohhh, man, do I really want to do this? I’m not very good, my interest in performing died with my youth, and man! a commitment!

And then a bunch of us hit a nearby bar and I was able to talk with some smart and funny people and I thought, Hmm, hanging out with these folks wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. And, as I told one woman, Yeah, this kinda kicked my ass, but given that I can be real bitch sometimes, it’s probably not the worst thing to get my ass kicked.

So. I have to decide by next Tuesday whether to go all in.

We’ll see.

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Why don’t you kill me?

19 06 2011

I am so tired of being a loser.

C. and I were at the end of our leisurely Red Hook/Gowanus ride and finishing our equally leisurely conversation in—yes—a leisurely manner. We had been discussing her novel* and her job and taking classes and the trail detoured into my life.

Which is when I burst out the above statement, along with complaints about being an underachieving dilettante and not extending myself or diving into anything which would  pull something out of me or committing myself, really, to anything.

And it’s so goddamned irritating, I ranted, that I make the same diagnosis over and over and over and still, here I am, grumpy and underachieving and uncommitted.

No, I’m not going to continue the rant, here; besides, you’ve heard it all before: I was stuck for twenty years between suicide and living and now I’m stuck in the not-knowing of living blah blah.

C. suggested that I just get out there and try different things, volunteer, anything to get myself moving and maybe, just maybe, involved. Sound advice, certainly, and nothing I haven’t told myself in previous go-arounds.

But it did occur to me, after we finally split, that I’ve got a real issue with trying to hoard time, so much so it interferes with the just-get-out-there approach: I don’t want to commit because what if I can’t follow through? I don’t want to be inconstant, so better not to be anything at all. What if I run out of time?

Nonsense, I know, at least in prosaic terms. I live in time and can no more grab hold of it than a fish can water. I can control my movements in time, but time itself? Nuh-uh.

Whether I can do anything with this elementary law of physics remains to be seen.

And there’s a flip side: Even as I am a physics-al being, I also know what it likes to live absent time. I’m not talking here of being ‘in the moment’ (although that’s nice when it happens, rare tho’ it is), but when I’m so involved in an activity that I have no consciousness of time.

Which brings me back to the beginning, and writing. C. mentioned that I seemed to be in a fictional frame of mind (oh, the meanings in that observation. . !), and I mentioned a story I had been turning over. I have characters, I said, but not much beyond that; I need to let this sit a bit, see what happens.

But then I noted that in between novel 1 and 2, I started another story, one which I might never get back to, and maybe this story is like that one: the one which prepares me for the next one.

And right then, I thought, Well, I’m not a loser dilettante when I’m writing; I just write.

Thus, that leisurely bike ride and leisurely conversation popped something loose: Start writing again, and the writing will come. Sketching out that story for C. helped me to see that that’s maybe all it will ever be, and that’s okay. Commit to the writing itself, just, just remember that I can commit to the work itself.

Something else will come; something else always comes.

~~~

*Hey, C. it occurred to me that you could work the slingshot into a joke: Your narrator could pick up a slingshot or having someone hand one to her and she could demur, muttering “Too Clan-of-the-Cave Bear.”

Anyway.





When I break down just a little and lose my head

11 01 2011

Deep breath.

I don’t know if this is the first but I do plan for it to be the last time I talk about this.

This is about Jared Loughner. And me. And the one thing that might connect us: neither of us were committed for mental illness.

As mentioned previously, I do not know if Loughner is mentally ill, and I really wish so-called experts would quit diagnosing him over the airwaves. But mentally ill or not, his actions prior to the shooting have led to a fair amount of discussion as to whether he should have or could have been committed.

Here’s where I come in: A half a lifetime ago, I had a commitment hearing. It was not a pleasant experience.

The judge was fine, the court-appointed attorney was fine, even the room in the locked ward of the psychiatric wing of the hospital was fine. And I wasn’t even committed, tho’ I do think I had to agree to stay on the ward and do x, y, and z.

I was deeply angered at having been incarcerated in the psych ward in the first place, and for years afterward felt that the incarceration was both unjustified and unjust.

Hey, I just wanted to kill myself, that’s all, no one else. No big deal.

The details are, pfft, details. There were cops and handcuffs and then at the hospital, restraints (which I managed to pull off*)—all of which sounds ghastly and it was, but it was ordinary, too.

Ordinary in that the cops were decent, as were the hospital staff, and the ward was clean and everyone had their own semi-private rooms and it was probably as good as these truly shitty things get.

It sucked, yes, and it sucked because I needed to be there.

It took me awhile—years—to realize that corralling me into a psych unit was both just and justified.

So, zoom back out: Does this mean I believe that everyone with an untreated or refractory mental illness should be consigned to a psych ward?

No.

But while it might have once been too easy to commit people for too long (for-ever. . .), the problem now is that too many people—both those who want help and those who don’t—have difficulty getting that help.

That’s where the focus should be: on access to good treatment for mental illness. Any discussion about making involuntary commitment end must begin with that concern.

William Galston goes about this the exact wrong way:

The story repeats itself, over and over. A single narrative connects the Unabomber, George Wallace shooter Arthur Bremmer, Reagan shooter John Hinckley, the Virginia Tech shooter—all mentally disturbed loners who needed to be committed and treated against their will. But the law would not permit it.

Starting in the 1970s, civil libertarians worked to eliminate involuntary commitment or, that failing, to raise the standards and burden of proof so high that few individuals would meet it. Important decisions by the Supreme Court and subordinate courts gave individuals new protections, including a constitutional right to refuse psychotropic medication. A few states have tried to push back in constitutionally acceptable ways, but efforts such as California’s Laura’s Law, designed to make it easier to force patients to take medication, have been stymied by civil rights concerns and lack of funding.

We need legal reform to shift the balance in favor of protecting the community, especially against those who are armed and deranged.

Yes, the point of treatment is not the unwell, it’s the rest of us.

Think I’m misreading Galston? Well after arguing for an expanded list of people who should be held legally responsible if they have “credible evidence” of someone’s “mental disturbance” and don’t report it to “both law enforcement and the courts”—not emergency rooms, not health officials—he argues that “A delusional loss of contact with reality” (whatever that is) should be enough to begin the process of commitment.

To be fair, he does say this process should include “multiple starts with multiple offers of voluntary assistance”, which, if one doesn’t volunteer, could end with “involuntary treatment, including commitment if necessary.”

That actually would sound reasonable as a way to try to get help for people, except, of course, that’s not Galston’s real concern:

How many more mass murders and assassinations do we need before we understand that the rights-based hyper-individualism of our laws governing mental illness is endangering the security of our community and the functioning of our democracy?

That’s right: people sleeping on heating grates or hiding out in rooms or basements and unable to care for themselves or anyone else is not the threat to democracy, it’s that “mentally disturbed loners” might take a shot at a president or pop star or member of Congress.

I have absolutely no truck with murder and assassination, and believe that if better care for the mentally ill would lead to fewer violent crimes, that would be wonderful.

We’re not going to get that better care, however, if all that matters is the fear of the well and the punishment of the unwell.

Right now, punishment is the driving approach to mental illness. According to a 2006 Human Rights Watch report,

More than half of all prison and state inmates now report mental health problems, including symptoms of major depression, mania and psychotic disorders, according to a just-released federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report, Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates.

In 1998, the BJS reported there were an estimated 283,000 prison and jail inmates who suffered from mental health problems. That number is now estimated to be 1.25 million. The rate of reported mental health disorders in the state prison population is five times greater (56.2 percent) than in the general adult population (11 percent).

Women prisoners have an even higher rate of mental health problems than men: almost three quarters (73 percent) of all women in state prison have mental health problems, compared to 55 percent of men.

Galston should be pleased: we’re already locking up a lotta crazy folk! Too bad that they’re not getting treated once they’re in jail.

Prison staff often punish mentally ill offenders for symptoms of their illness, such as being noisy, refusing orders, self mutilating or even attempting suicide. Mentally ill prisoners are thus more likely than others to end up housed in especially harsh conditions, including isolation, that can push them over the edge into acute psychosis.

Would involuntary commitment have helped these prisoners? Again, if one follows Galston, the deranged should be reported to “law enforcement officials and the courts”, not to anyone actually in a position to help them.

And where would all of these people go, if not to jail?

According to Human Rights Watch, the staggering rate or incarceration of the mentally ill is a consequence of under-funded, disorganized and fragmented community mental health services. Many people with mental illness, particularly those who are poor, homeless, or struggling with substance abuse – cannot get mental health treatment. If they commit a crime, even low-level nonviolent offenses, punitive sentencing laws mandate imprisonment.

The new BJS report reveals that state prisoners with mental health problems were twice as likely to have been homeless and twice as likely to have lived in a foster home, agency or institution while growing up as those without mental health problems. Prisoners with mental health problems were also significantly more likely to have reported being physically or sexually abused in the past, to have had family members who had substance abuse problems, and to have a family member who had been incarcerated in the past. An estimated 42 percent of state inmates had both a mental health problem and substance dependence or abuse.

(See also: here, here, and here, or just run a search on “mentally ill prisoners”.)

I don’t think this is working. It’s just possible, in fact, that if there were better patient-centered options—options which could include involuntary treatment—that fewer mentally ill people would end up in jail. Good for them, good for us.

We can’t just jump ahead to involuntary treatment and commitment, however, before building up the infrastructure for all treatment, voluntary and not. It wasn’t until 2008 that the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was signed into law, and even with that law, treatment for mental illness may legally go uncovered.

So let’s make treatment possible. Let’s make sure the vulnerable have a place to go where they can actually get help before we call on cops and judges. Only after we make sure treatment is actually available does it make sense to talk about laws to draft the resistant into that treatment.

There’s nothing easy about any of this, not least because some mental illness are just damned hard to treat, but if commitment is to be both justified and just, then it makes sense that in our rights-based hyper-individualist society that we actually pay attention to the individual at the center of the debate.

*This is why you should always wear a watch: if anyone tries to tie your wrists together or to something (like, say, the rail of a hospital bed), you can use the extra space provided by the watch to wrench and wriggle your wrist free.

~~~

Coda: I got lucky—although it sure as hell didn’t feel like it at the time—because I got care.

A person shouldn’t need luck to get care.

h/t The Daily Dish





Nothing changes on New Year’s day

3 01 2011

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions. I mean, it’s not like I’m actually going to follow through or anything.

Nevertheless.

My life has been bumping rather than rolling along, and thus it behooves me to think, Hm, why might this be? And what could I do to smooth it out a wee?

So, plans, considerations—resolutions, if you will.

1. I will do dishes at least every other day.

When I live with other people, I’m pretty good about not leaving common areas (e.g., the kitchen sink) clogged up with my gunk, but, alone, well. . . hey, those dishes are all mine, and they’re rinsed, and, you know, I just ate cereal out of that bowl or drank water out of that glass. . . did I mention I rinsed?

Please.

I’m an adult, and not much of a cook, so it’s not as if I create a blizzard of dishes—which, actually, might be the problem. It’s really easy to let things go if it’s only a plate or a bowl and a few pieces of silverware. . . .

Regardless, this is a basic way to take care, so why not just take care. It’s not as if spending 10 minutes making dishes clean every two days is that onerous, anyway.

2. I will leave my apartment every day.

This is not an issue when I am fully or overemployed, but in my underemployment, I find it very easy to hunker down and fade away. The gym membership helps, but as I have no expectation of spending 7 days a week at the gym, I need to haul my own sorry ass out of the building and around the block or over to the park or wherever until I do hitch a  new ride in the job-o-sphere. (And if I manage to find a job wherein I work from home? Even more important to get the hell out.)

I have made this commitment before, but what the hell, it’s a good one, and worth trying again.

3. At least 5 days a week I will do one thing I don’t want to do but which needs doing.

This isn’t about the cleaning the cat box, which I don’t like doing but needs doing and already do, anyway; no, this is about going through files or organizing this or tossing that—clearing away the (metaphorical) cobwebs, if you will.

Again, I’ve tried doing something like this previously (if I could find the post about lists I’d link to it, but you’ll just have to trust me: I’ve written on this before) and have failed, but, again, it’s worth another shot.

4. I will open my mail as soon I get it.

I don’t this, and that’s bad.

I have hang-ups about mail (postal and electronic) and no, I don’t want to talk about it, but, well, there it is.

I am most likely to fail at this one first.

5. I will sit, and breathe, and try not to distract myself, for a little while every day.

Or this one—I might fail this one first.

~~~

There are so, so many things in my life which need changing, but many of those are big, or seem big, or are in any case currently beyond my will and/or ability to deal with. So I’m starting small.

Now, of course, if I fail at the small what are the chances I’ll tackle the big? Oh! Oh! I can answer this! Nil! Because I’m already failing at the small!

In other words, I gots nothing to lose.

~~~

I am unhappy with my self and my life. No, I’m not awful, but I’m not who I want to be, either.

Not that I know who I want to be, but I do know some of the pieces that I would like included in present and future versions of myself.

I’d like to pay better attention.

I’d like to be a better friend, to show up for people, in ways that matter to them.

I’d like to take more chances. On everything. And maybe, just maybe, if not on everyone, then on at least some-ones.

I’d like to learn something other than defense.

I’d like to stop making excuses.

Oh, and I’d like to be taller, please.

~~~

The list is not unreasonable (for the most part. . . ), but even now, I hesitate.Who cares about these things? Who cares that you want to do these things? What kind of pie-in-the-sky crap is this, anyway?

I don’t want to silence my inner critic—who would I talk to?—but it would be nice if I could get her to remember that a true critic doesn’t just chastise. Sometimes, sometimes, the critic applauds.

Or at least puts down her pen long enough to give a nod.

Yeah, a nod. I could live with that.